Learning Causal Semantic Representation for Out-of-Distribution Prediction

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 34 pre-proceedings (NeurIPS 2021)

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Authors

Chang Liu, Xinwei Sun, Jindong Wang, Haoyue Tang, Tao Li, Tao Qin, Wei Chen, Tie-Yan Liu

Abstract

Conventional supervised learning methods, especially deep ones, are found to be sensitive to out-of-distribution (OOD) examples, largely because the learned representation mixes the semantic factor with the variation factor due to their domain-specific correlation, while only the semantic factor causes the output. To address the problem, we propose a Causal Semantic Generative model (CSG) based on a causal reasoning so that the two factors are modeled separately, and develop methods for OOD prediction from a single training domain, which is common and challenging. The methods are based on the causal invariance principle, with a novel design in variational Bayes for both efficient learning and easy prediction. Theoretically, we prove that under certain conditions, CSG can identify the semantic factor by fitting training data, and this semantic-identification guarantees the boundedness of OOD generalization error and the success of adaptation. Empirical study shows improved OOD performance over prevailing baselines.